Atop MLB's most-wanted list

Carlos Beltran is a carpe diem sort of guy. He's on center stage again, and he's soaking it up.

No player is being pursued as widely as Beltran with baseball's non-waiver trade deadline a week away. And he's doing his part to make sure the Mets get a huge return, delivering big hits like he did for the Astros in the 2004 playoffs and the Mets in the '06 playoffs.


Many around baseball had forgotten what a force the 34-year-old switch hitter could be. But he has reminded them how good he can be when he's healthy, batting .290 with 15 homers and a majors-high 30 doubles in his first 93 games.

"Looking at the big picture, I'm just happy that I'm healthy,'' said Beltran, who was batting .351 in his last 18 games. "I know that if I'm healthy and contributing, there are going to be teams that are going to be interested in me. It's fun.''


More than Ubaldo Jimenez or Joakim Soria, Beltran has been the must-see attraction for scouts. Almost every contender at least has kicked the tires on Beltran, with the Braves, Phillies, Giants and Brewers (who just lost center fielder Carlos Gomez to a broken collarbone) believed to be the front-runners.

Some believe the Red Sox's interest could prompt an aggressive response from the Yankees, who haven't gotten much production from left fielder Brett Gardner. There's no way to say where this is leading, but there's little question Beltran is the best player who will be traded.

Some other things to know as the July 31 deadline approaches:

•The team that needs the most: Stephen Drew's fractured ankle was the last thing the Diamondbacks needed. They already were looking for help at first base and for a bullpen left-hander. Add shortstop to the list.

•Team likely to be the most aggressive: The Tigers, who added third baseman Wilson Betemit last week, almost certainly will add a starting pitcher and possibly another hitter.

•Team with the most to offer: The Mariners. A 12-game losing streak took them from 21/2 out to 121/2 back in the American League West, and GM Jack Zduriencik suddenly finds himself inundated with inquiries from teams looking to strip his roster. The Mariners are telling teams Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda and rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley are untouchable. That means right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, first baseman Justin Smoak, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, left-hander Jason Vargas, right-hander Doug Fister, All-Star closer Brandon League, infielder Adam Kennedy and catcher Miguel Olivo theoretically are available. Ichiro, hitting .265 with 24 stolen bases, has a limited no-trade clause. It's hard to believe he would be moved, but this is a frustrated organization.

•Reason trading activity could be light: Six teams are in commanding position to make the playoffs, with the Yankees and Braves in control of wild-card races. Along with the Red Sox and Phillies, they might conclude they can stick with what they have (although most expect the Yankees to deal for a starting pitcher).

•Best front office to read and react: The Rangers beat the Yankees to Cliff Lee a year ago and are expected to make a significant move again.

Stealth slugger: Despite disappointing production from Carl Crawford, the Red Sox are the highest-scoring team in the majors. Adrian Gonzalez might be the biggest reason, but don't overlook center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

A year after having his toughness questioned, he's delivering the speed-power combination the Red Sox had expected from Crawford. A two-homer game against the Orioles on Wednesday gave Ellsbury 15 homers to go with 28 stolen bases entering the weekend.

Ellsbury, who is hitting .316 with a .509 slugging percentage, is on track to score 118 runs, steal 47 bases and compile 72 extra-base hits.

"Just staying balanced, keeping my weight back and driving the ball,'' Ellsbury said. "It's being ready to hit and keeping my hands back. It's pretty simple. I haven't really changed anything."

He has heard of him: Rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman is one reason the Braves are in such a comfortable position.

He hit the 50-RBI mark Monday, becoming the first Brave to get 50 RBIs this early in a season since Hank Aaron in 1954.

"It's pretty impressive to see," pitcher Derek Lowe said. "I think if you ask him, this is probably how he anticipated hitting all along. That's what makes good young hitters and pitchers so successful — this isn't a big jump for these guys. They expect to hit like this."


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